Arc 1, Bittersweet 13

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Eventually, after a couple minutes of back and forth bantering with Anne and me while he was still sitting in the tipped over chair with his feet in the air, Danny extracted himself from the chair, turned the chair right side up, and seated himself again.

Without active humor, relief over their new-found safety was not enough to keep Danny and Anne from brooding.  I certainly had a lot of things on my mind too, which were drastically complicated by having terrible super powers.

We need to talk this out some.

I cleared my throat.  “OK, family meeting, but we’ll have to be careful here, please, since I don’t have any convenient place to run to that’s away from people.  If I shift here, there’s no telling how many powered people will be coming through the ceilings, floors, windows, or doors to attack me.”

Anne sighed and held her hands up a little over her stomach.  I gave her my right hand and braced myself so she could pull herself upright.  After she sat up in my lap, she stood, while commenting, “Agreed.  Everything is upside down right now, and we have to plan.  The problem is that none of us knows how the world of supers accommodates the lives of normal spouses or children.  Never mind this ‘enclave’ of vigilantes.”

“I’m not a child.” Danny spoke, in a slightly irritated tone, before he slurped a bit of orange juice and set the sports bottle on the end table next to his chair.

We’ve had this talk before Danny, but you’re stressed, so I’m not going to give you grief over it, this time.

“You are not a child, but you will always be OUR child, Danny.  Just like Anne and I are always going to be your grandparents’ children.  That’s just the way it works.  It has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to survive in the world.”

“Until you got super powers, and everything went to hell.” Danny muttered.

I bit back my initial response to that.  He was flailing at the unfairness of life.

You don’t know the half of it, son.  I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot more pain than you.

Anne stepped up with the parental guidance that I was at a loss to express.  “Life doesn’t always come up rainbows, Danny, despite how hard your father and I tried to make sure that happened for you.” She commented, from behind Danny’s chair where she was collecting her shoes.  “I know you know this, we made sure you learned it.  You would never be where you are as a runner if you hadn’t learned about the value of hard work and hardship, but I am emphasizing it now.  The world just dropped a giant truckload of shit into our rainbow factory.” Anne put a hand gently on Danny’s head as she walked by him, ruffling his half-inch long, short brown hair.

Danny grinned a bit at the choice of words as he gently brushed Anne’s hand off his head.

Anne spoke again, “The next few weeks are going to be hard, very hard.  That’s a guarantee.  We’re going to have to learn a new way to live, make new friends, learn to deal with new problems.”

Danny was still clearly unhappy but had lost the petulant look, thankfully, so I continued.  “We can’t make much in the way of specific plans, but we can talk generalities.  I don’t know if this apartment is something temporary or permanent for you.  Either you two are going to live in a secure location, if there’s any such thing, or you will go into something like the witness protection program.  I do not know how much contact I’m going to be able to have with you.  I don’t know how safe you really can be with someone like Gorgon wanting to use you to blackmail me.  I don’t know what measures might be required to safely disguise you, or if that will be necessary at all.”

Anne asked the question that I was hoping she wouldn’t.  “Can we trust them, the Enclave, that is?”

I don’t know, but we don’t have much choice.  How can I make this clear to you without upsetting Danny?

“As far as I know, Octagon called in the Enclave in to help with the intervention they arranged at the SPA meeting, and they were supposed to contain me on our property after that until I agreed to enter the disruptive powers program.”

“An intervention?  What?” Anne looked at me sharply.  Danny just looked confused.  Nobody in our close family had required an intervention for drugs, alcohol, or psychological issues, though the stories of my parents’ grandparents’ time certainly seemed to indicate there had been some of my relatives, dead long ago, who would have been prime candidates.

“SPA meetings are also apparently used for interventions for the disruptive powers program.”  I started out.  Anne frowned, but Danny still looked confused.  “Danny, an intervention is basically a psychological kick in the ass to make you accept help that you would normally not accept.  Alcoholics Anonymous and various other substance abuse groups use them all the time.  There’s an equivalent for supers with dangerous or disruptive powers.  Interventions almost always involve close family members and friends, but sometimes that’s not feasible.”

Anne was listening carefully to me, her eyes narrowed a bit.  “It sounds like the intervention might have actually worked for you to some degree, based on how you are talking about it.  You don’t seem angry that they did it.”

“Yes, the meeting had Dr. Fusion as a guest speaker, or that’s what they led me to believe.  I panicked, and if Mirage and her team hadn’t been there, I would have transformed in the same building with him.  Probably not in range of him, but close enough to scare the hell out of me.”

“Wait.  They let Dr. Fusion close to you?  Are they insane?”  Danny said, leaning forward in his seat, an incredulous look on his face.

Anne’s eyes popped wide open but she said nothing, thinking.

I did not expect you to know who he was, Danny.  That makes this a bit easier to explain.

“No, it wasn’t the real Dr. Fusion.  It was a body double that they used to terrify me so I’d join the disruptive powers program.  They were making the point that with a power like mine, a chance encounter could kill thousands, maybe millions.  There aren’t many supers with the sheer power of Dr. Fusion, but there are a lot of energy-based supers who can make very large craters, not to mention supers with chemical, or biological, powers that have the potential to cover very large areas.”

“Like Majestic Mind, since he’s a chemical tinker.” Anne whispered.

I shuddered.  “Exactly.  If I had met him in a location where he had access to lots of different chemicals, he might have put together something that could have killed thousands.  As it was, Jumping Jack’s power to detect weaknesses was probably the only thing that kept Majestic Mind from trying to put together a fuel-air bomb or napalm or something.  They worked together, and Majestic Mind’s basic technical competence let him design a high-powered electrical weapon.”

Crap, I just told my wife and son that I’m weak to electricity.  Next time they get caught up in my power, they might hurt themselves, because neither of them knows a damn thing about electrical power.

I paused.  “The intervention worked.  It worked well enough that I’m hesitant about taking the Enclave up on its offer to work with them as a ‘heavy’ member, for fear that I might run into the wrong super, perhaps an unknown, a new villain recruit or hero hostage or something.”

I don’t know if my acceptance of that agreement is required for them to provide you safety.  I don’t know if my other skills are of sufficient value to them.  For all I know they will drop us all back in our yard for Gorgon to play with if I don’t ‘play ball’ with them.

“Since Octagon set all this in motion, I’m fairly confident that our family’s best interests were in mind.  He was, ah, rather vocal with me about endangering my family, and others.  I can’t imagine he would have intentionally set us up to be watched over by people he didn’t trust, at least to some degree.”

Anne slowly tapped her incisors with the tip of her right index fingernail, through slightly parted lips.  Click. Click. Click. This was one of her ‘putting things together’ habits that I had noticed over the years.  She had several.  I saw this one a lot when she was starting a new web design project, trying to figure out what the customer wanted.

“I see.” Anne said.

I hope you do.

“So, we’re going to have to find ways to be useful to the Enclave.  Not all supers are in good shape. Maybe I could help them with personal training and diet?  Mom could help them with computer stuff, maybe, even if they don’t need web pages?”

Anne and I both swiveled our heads towards Danny.

He looked back at us, looking from one to the other.  “What did I say?”

Anne smiled at me as I responded. “Like was mentioned earlier, you just made it even clearer to both of us that you might still be our child, but you aren’t a child anymore.”

Leaning back in the couch and scrubbing my chin, I continued after a couple seconds.  “Basically, right now we’re in a holding pattern.  You two have been yanked out of whatever’s left of your normal lives after I got powers, and dropped here.  I have no idea how well organized the Enclave is, but it seems at least moderately competent from what I’ve seen.  I’ve spoken to Blindside, Mirage, and Mindblade, and had my head turned inside out for everyone to examine by Fiction.  Anne, you probably have a better idea of how organized they are, based on what you saw, if they let you stay near me while they did their thing.”

Anne thought for a moment before answering.  “I was in the same room with you from the time they knocked you out until you woke up.  Danny was too.  They seemed competent and organized, but there are definitely factions.  I didn’t really get a sense of what the factional splits were, but it was definitely there in the way they dealt with one another.”

Unless…  No, I have to stop this, I cannot constantly doubt them.  As much as they pissed me off, everything they have done so far to mess with my head is understandable, considering my powers.  They had to experiment, get inside my head, and understand me, before they could possibly bring me into contact with their organization.

“Factions are expected, and a good sign.  I’m also glad they seemed organized and competent to you, Anne.  I wasn’t able to observe them acting as a group, only as individuals.  The behavior I saw, in retrospect, was clearly meant to interdict and test me.  They had to be sure they could control me.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a person nearby who can knock me out mentally before I could activate my powers.”

Perhaps even invisible in this room.  Don’t answer that if you are, it will just piss me off, which I don’t need right now.

“At least half of the people in the circle had no powers.” Danny said.

That’s encouraging.  But how reliable is that information?

“How do you know, Danny?  Did you overhear something?”

“I overheard two women arguing, one of them mentioned that she didn’t understand why half of the circle had to have no powers.  A lot of other people were watching them argue, very intently.”  He looked away from me, coloring a bit.  “This was when Mom was undressing you.”

They let Anne undress me?  I wasn’t sure if I should be comforted or confused by that.  I shelved that to think over later.

I looked at Anne, and she nodded.  “I remember there being a bit of a stir, Zeke, but I was busy with you, and didn’t hear what started it.”

“The better organized they are, the faster I’ll have a sense of where we stand with them.” I said.  “From what you two have said they seem at least decently organized.  None of us are cape followers to my knowledge, but I’ve never heard of this Enclave of vigilantes and their families before, so they are at least organized enough to keep themselves from being a household name.”

Or ruthless enough.  Stop.  There’s no need for that thought.  They can rewrite memories.

I thought about it more carefully.  I had to, even if I didn’t want to.  Memory wiping should be enough for the Enclave in a worst case scenario if they decided they didn’t want us around.  I have not seen anything here in Strangest form, yet, so all these memories could be wiped.  I’d still retain memories of the cold room, with no idea how I got there.

“If they are planning on letting us have this apartment, there are probably going to be documents in here somewhere for you two to look over while I meet with more people.”

Danny picked up and waved the smartphone-like device sitting on the end table next to his desk.  “I already started looking at that when you were blowing off steam underground, Dad.  There’s a lot of data here, I barely got started.  Each room has a terminal with the same data, it says.  I ordered bread, cheese, and cold cuts to eat for tonight and tomorrow until Mom and I can poke around and see what other foods are available.  I’ll need a blender for smoothies too.”

Anne held out her hand.  “Give, Danny.”

Danny handed the device to her.

After a couple false starts with the unfamiliar operating system, Anne rapidly scanned through several menus, found where the terminals in each room were located, and then handed the device back to Danny. “Thanks.”

“Well, I figure that someone will probably be along in a few minutes to collect me so I can speak with whoever wants to talk to me.  Let’s take a look around and see what’s here so I’ll know what you need.  I know you’re going to need to speak to people to help you find useful things to keep your minds busy.”

“Treadmill, definitely.  And some way to listen to music when I run.  Unless there’s a way for me to run outside, safely.”  Danny frowned, looking at the handheld device again.  “I really need to be getting to bed.  Hopefully there’s an alarm in the room terminal.”

This is so unfair to Danny.  He was close to breaking four-minute-miles and still improving.  There’s no way he can go to college or become a competitive runner now, it would be too public.  The number of non-super people that can run like him at his age is too small of a population for him to hide in, even if it is possible to change his appearance.  When he realizes that, it’s going to hurt him, a lot.

Like Anne said earlier, life just dumped a truckload of shit into the rainbow factory.

We’ll do our best, Danny, but rainbows are going to be in short supply for a while.

Between the three of us we found bed linens and pillows.  Anne and I quickly set up Danny’s bed while he figured out his room terminal on the desk.  It did have an alarm feature, and he showed it to Anne and me before we left him to go to bed.  It would probably be the same in the other room.  Not that I would spend much time there.

I suspected I would not be allowed to sleep in the building, unless it was in the garage.  Bad dreams could set off my power.  It had happened once, in the barn.  I had been forced to rearrange the entire loft to keep my bed far enough from everything else that I wouldn’t demolish my computer workstation, or the window on that side of the loft, if it happened again.

Anne and I set up the bed and alarm in the other room before returning to the living area.

“Want a shoulder rub, Zeke?”

“Oh, God yes.  That would be incredible, Anne.”

A minute later, I was laying on my stomach, and Anne was crouched over my back, her knees to either side of my chest, giving me a much-needed shoulder massage on the living room floor.  Of course, thirty seconds into the massage, there was a light tap on the door.

I sighed.  “Thanks for the effort, Anne.  Maybe later?”

“Definitely later.  I’ll expect you to return the favor too.”  She stood up and moved away from me to give me room to stand, holding her hands down to me to help me stand.

I was careful not to put too much pressure on her hands and wrists as I stood; her doctor had said she was starting to show signs of repetitive stress injury from all the typing she did.  Giving me the shoulder rub had almost certainly been causing her some discomfort.  “With pleasure, dear.  In fact since you started this time, I’ll start next time.  Even just that little bit helped.”  I rolled my shoulders and arms as I stood up straighter.  I really did feel a little looser in the shoulders, even after just a few seconds of massage.  Anne had magic fingers.

I leaned over to kiss her, and she angled her head up to me.  We kissed very briefly.  There was a repeat knock on the door, a little louder.  I hugged her to me for a moment, and then she pushed me away gently.

“Go,” she said, “before they wake Danny.  If they let you come back, I’ll be waiting.  I’m pretty sure tonight isn’t going to be a night for sleeping.”

“OK, Anne.  Wish me luck.”

“Luck, Zeke.”

I turned and walked to the front door, half expecting there to be some sort of access pad, like from the glass buildings.  There was just a doorknob and a deadbolt.

I opened the door, to see Mirage and two others with her, a man and a woman, both middle aged.  Mirage was in her costume, but this time without the light bending effect active.  Her suit was a smoke grey full body suit, clearly armored.  The other two were wearing normal clothing, both business casual.

“Hello, Mirage”

“Hello, Zeke.”

“Have you set up someplace we can talk, where I can be shifted as I speak with you?  If I’m going to be making plans based on our discussion, I want the confidence of knowing I won’t be forgetting our discussion.”

“It’s been arranged.  Down in the garage again.  The cavern is large enough that you can be at one side, and we can be at the other, and there will be plenty of room.” Mirage said.  “It’s unorthodox, but given your powers, it makes sense.”

I followed Mirage, and the two others followed me.

Why hadn’t Mirage introduced them to me?  Why hadn’t they introduced themselves, for that matter?

Maybe Mirage isn’t used to the whole business meeting etiquette thing.  Or maybe this is more testing.

I slowed down a bit and offered my hand to the woman as we walked.  “Zeke Collins.  No clue what role I’ll be filling here.”

The woman immediately reached back out to me and took my hand.  “Sarah Donlee.  Logistics and planning.”

I turned to the man, who was waiting for me, with hand partly extended.  “Good to meet you, Zeke, I’m Fred Billings, personnel.”

“We’ll be able to start talking as you requested in a few minutes, Zeke.”  Mirage stated from the front of our group as she led us.

“OK Mirage, I’ll wait, but I’m going to need to sleep somewhere tonight.  If you haven’t considered that yet, please do.  It’s been a rough day and I’m very tired.  I’ll probably be OK in Strangest form, but when we’re done, and I shift back, I’m going to need a place to crash.  I doubt you want me doing that in the apartment you have put my family up in.”

“We’ll be sending you back to your house to sleep, with a tracking band.” Mirage said.  After a moment, she continued.  “It’s the safest place for us to keep you, for now.”

What?  A tracking band?

“What do you mean by a tracking band, Mirage?” I asked.

“Zeke, you haven’t figured it out yet?  We are the disruptive powers program.”

Good grief, another layer of complexity for me to keep track of.  Thanks Mirage.

Mirage started chuckling, definitely at my expense.

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13 comments

  1. AvidFan

    The plot thickens!
    And becomes less messy.
    Kinda like thick spaghetti. Tasty too.

    Now I’m hungry….. How on earth did this make me hungry….

  2. Ellert

    Interesting story. I didn t finish Symbiote because the protagonist became too strong too fast for me but I think I like this. You still have a pretty fast pace in my opinion tho I guess thats just your writing style.
    I wonder if it is his personality that makes him accept everything so fast I mean if it was me I d probably hold some kind of grudge with octagon for starting all this same with the mindpowers scrambling his brain. I mean first they go: And now we are done screwing with you lets send you to our enclave and look we screwed with you again. I mean that doesn t exactly make them trustworthy.

    some typos:
    Arc 1, Bittersweet 3
    in the small of pine and cow shit
    smell
    Arc 1, Bittersweet 12
    I can’t want to tell Grandpa and Grandma Collins about the space elves!
    wait
    Arc 1, Bittersweet 13
    by people he didn’t trust, at least so some degree
    to

    • farmerbob1

      Fixed the typos, Thanks!

      Zeke definitely does not much care about all the game-playing that’s been going on with his head. He can rationalize that they are trying to help, and try to not be irritated with people, but that’s not always going to work. I’ll watch his interactions and try to be sure to keep a nice helping of bitterness and distrust in there.

  3. thomas

    *click* – I don’t know a better way to express the clicks but this seemed weird with the asterisks. Z seems to ignore the obvious in his mental ramblings. Saying, ‘This is so unfair to Danny’ without acknowledging that living in Enclave is better than not living implies Z needs help thiking through the real issues. He also seems to ignore the question of whether he received a real offer to join/work with them or is it pure Fiction. It seems prudent to assume nothing about the time affected by Fiction but in his Family Meeting, he glossed over the mentalist powers on him. At least using his power during the next meeting should protect him a little.

    Errata
    • supers with chemical, or biological powers
    missing comma: supers with chemical, or biological, powers
    • Not all supers are in good shape, maybe
    Semicolon instead of comma
    • breaking four minute miles, and still improving.
    Unnecessary comma; four-minute-miles
    • The number of non-super people that can run like him at his age are too small of a population for him to hide in, even if it is possible to change his appearance.
    Subject-Verb disagreement: either numbers/are or number/is
    • the other room, then
    missing and here and elsewhere
    • knowing I won’t be forgetting out discussion
    knowing I won’t be forgetting our discussion

    • farmerbob1

      Fixed, Thanks!

      It’s very hard to imagine someone’s reactions to being exposed to people with mental super powers. Zeke tends to hold himself on a fairly tight leash, moderating his reactions to others partly because he is used to doing so for business matters, and partly because of his powers. I’ll freely admit to having difficulty imagining Zeke’s reactions on such fundamentally unstable situational awareness. For all he knows, someone might be offering him a red pill or a blue pill at this next meeting. I’ll say in advance that this isn’t the case, because nested alternate realities might be a cool concept, but I’m not going THAT far. Not in main character development.

      I also looked back and made sure I remembered properly. I did express some of his concerns directly to the reader, internally. Externally, to other characters, he was trying to shelter Danny a little without blatantly sugar-coating it, while trying to make sure Anne picked up on his worries by his choice of words that he hoped would be subtle enough that Danny wouldn’t catch on. He thinks he was successful doing both.

      • thomas

        I did not make my comment clear. I was looking at the external POV – especially that of Anne and Danny. Your description of Danny is a very intelligent and mature young man. He obviously knows more about supers than Z expected, and if I were Danny, I would be researching supers too. I would want to know everything possible so I could understand and support my dad. Of the three of them, I would expect Danny to know the most.

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